Olon Reeder’s Fix for an Ailing State Economy

Published on RIfutures.org, July 18, 2014

Olon Reeder, a slight-figured, unassuming, behind-the-scenes kinda guy, has been quietly improving the quality of life in northern Rhode Island for decades as a public affair adviser for the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.  With his years of working in the public sector, as legislative assistant with the Rhode Island General Assembly in the mid-to-late 1970s, with the Garrahy administration, state agencies and with small businesses, he’s authored a nontraditional economic development policy paper he hopes will be considered in next year’s Rhode Island General Assembly debate as to how to create a more vibrant business environment in the Ocean State.

Over the years, Reeder, President of Reeder Associates, a Southern New England-based public relations and multi-media communications company, has seen state lawmakers and its economic development agency attempt to compete with surrounding states, just going after “larger, trendy, projects to turn the economy around. “Smaller companies would always get the short end of the stick, because they were not seen as a viable economic generator,” he says, stressing that this perception is inaccurate.

In recent years economic development solutions to fix the state’s ailing economy have been floated for public debate by lawmakers, economic development professionals or by large corporations. Today, Reeder, with almost 40 years of in the public and private sectors, calls on state lawmakers to consider his proposal when they focus on economic reform in next year’s session. More needs to be done, says the small businessperson who is a Native Rhode islander.

It’s almost like Mr. Reeder goes to Smith Hill, to take on the establishment to be heard.

“We are at a critical crossroads where we must overcome our negatives attitudes and start taking actions ourselves if we all want our state and our lives to become successful,” Reeder wrote in a recently released policy statement detailing his suggested economic development action agenda, as how to improve the state’s long term quality of life, through investing in people, communities and small businesses.

He calls for tying lifelong education to grow the economy. “Brain power is a key element driving worldwide demands and economic activity today, through the convergence of non stop knowledge, creative economy, enterprise and innovation, art-design connections, which all start with lifelong learning,” he says.

He says personal empowerment creates the environment for change “Empowerment encourages, and develops the skills for, self-sufficiency, giving people the abilities and knowledge that will allow them to overcome obstacles in life or work environment and ultimately, help them develop within themselves or in the society,” he says.

Companies are constantly replacing full-time employees, he said, and now relying upon independent contractors, where people who once counted on a steady pay check are now being left to fend for themselves in a hyper-competitive self-employed market. These individuals are oftentimes forgotten by policy makers.

Based on 2011 figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Rhode Island, there re over 73 thousand self-employed contributing over $3 billion annually to the state’s economy. Most self-employed are hired out of necessity, are done so locally and through word of mouth. Because freelancers depend so much on self promotion to get their jobs, they must focus on the local markets, along with showcasing their diverse personal talents, marketing their skills to business owners in their community, along trying to compete with others for opportunities.

Reeder recognizes the importance of valuing our places, spaces and communities, to grow business. “More than ever, people must be connected to where we live, work, play, stay and travel. People expect places and spaces they interact with daily to be vibrant, active, socially appealing, culturally stimulating and help them in improving their quality of life, especially with their physical and mental health,” he says.

Reeder notes active living communities provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to engage in routine daily physical activity, he says, like pedestrian and bicycle friendly design, access to intermodal transportation, mixed use development, ample recreation, walkable neighborhoods, access to fresh and healthy foods and commerce centers. This philosophy must be included in any state economic development plan.

“Our economic revitalization is relevant to healthy and sustainable communities because active living communities encourage individuals to be more physically active, improving health by lowering citizens’ risk for health conditions, adds Reeder. “Active living communities create enhance quality of life, attract business and knowledge workers, and contribute to ongoing economic development,” he says.

Reeder stresses that technology is a must, as people are now “required” to have 24/7 365 access to the Internet and must now communicate through social media to live, work, and transact personal activity, he calls for providing everyone with free online access “as a necessity of our 21st century lifestyles.”  Finally, Reeder thinks “Demand Driven Experiences” are necessary for not only reinventing our state’s manufacturing, but in changing our self attitudes about how Rhode Islanders see themselves, ultimately affecting expectations others may have about the perception of Rhode Island as the worst place for business.

“Because people no longer buy things for their personal benefit, they want enhancements to fulfill missing elements of their lives,” adds Reeder, noting that experiences are crucial for businesses and locations as a branding and marketing tool, especially with efforts in Rhode Island attracting people to live and travel here for our entertainment, food and lifestyles.”  “Using our experiences to effectively promote market and give an iconic brand, we must also stay true to the “real Rhode Island,” to our proud independent and working class heritage, the ethnic and cultural diversity in our state, and preserving our unique natural resources,” he says.
State lawmakers are moving in the right direction to make Rhode Island a more business-friendly place to operate. Reeder continues his efforts to get his voice heard by General Assembly leadership, state policy makers, business groups, even gubernatorial candidates. Hopefully, they will choose to closely listen to Reeder’s nontraditional approach to economic development and to small business owners who know their specific needs to operate successfully.

- See more at: http://www.rifuture.org/olon-reeders-fix-for-the-states-ailing-economy.html#sthash.86LrWZAH.dpuf

Herb Weiss, “LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-writer covering aging, health care, medical, and business issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

 

Being Vigilant Keeps Phone Scammers Away

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 18, 2014

When 81-year-old Cincinnati resident Roger W. answered a call in December, he thought it was his grandson on the other end of the phone. The young voice said, Grandpa, this you’re your favorite grandson,” he remembered, replying, “I have six grandsons and they are all my favorites.” Claiming to be the oldest, the “grandson” said he had been arrested for speeding and drug possession and urgently needed money for bail. He then turned the call over to a person claiming to be a police officer. Convinced their eldest grandson needed help, Roger W. and his wife headed to a local retail store to purchase a money-order card to cover the cost of bail.

After sending a total of $7,000 to the supposed police officer, the elderly couple soon discovered they had been conned out of their hard-earned money after reaching their real grandson on his cell phone. They are among an untold number of older Americans who have fallen victim to a commonly used scam known as the “grandparent scam” that experts say is again making a comeback across the nation.

Senate Aging Hearing Puts the Spotlight on Phone Scams

Roger W., who has requested anonymity to avoid becoming a target of other con-artists, testified two days ago at a hearing of the U..S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held at the Senate Dirksen building. The hearing examined the recent rise in imposter scams, particularly the grandparent scam.

Along with Roger W., witnesses at the July 16th hearing included officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the United States Telecom Association, who discussed potential solutions to protecting consumers and curbing phone scams.

According to the FTC, Americans lost more than $73 million to impostor scams in 2013. While the federal agency admits the figure is under reported, accounting for only a fraction of the problem because most victims fail to report the crime, instances of imposter scams have doubled between 2009 and 2013. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the committee’s chairman and ranking member, called for this hearing after receiving a large number of complaints from victims through the committee’s fraud hotline. The two lawmakers said they’re hoping the hearing will help identify potential solutions to help law enforcement to better detect and prosecute such crimes, as well as encourage retailers and phone companies to do their part to protect consumers.

Phone Scams Commonly Reported in Rhode Island

According to the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General, the Ocean State is not immune to the financial scam, described at the recent Senate Aging hearing by Roger W. There are slight variations of the “grandparent scam” story where con artists pretend to be a family member and claim they need money to fix a car, get out of jail or leave a foreign country. They will beg you to wire money right away and keep the information confidential. In some cases, the scammers even know the names of family members. In other instances, the person on the other end of the line may pretend to be a police officer or friend calling on behalf of the grandchild.

In 2013, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit responded to 6,229 telephone calls, 1,144 written complaints, 1,534 email inquiries and 74 walk-ins. While the Consumer Protection Unit does not keep statistics on each scam that is reported, the grandparent scam is no stranger to the employees

“We see a spike in these types of scams during times when a grandchild might be on vacation, like school break or summers, making the story more believable to the person on the other end of the phone,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. The Attorney General’s Office includes a Consumer Protection Unit, which, among other responsibilities, warns the public about such scams and educates consumers on how to protect themselves from being a victim of a scam, he says.

Kilmartin observes that “Con artists have turned fraud into a multi-billion dollar business. Each year, thousands of consumers lose anywhere from a few dollars to their life savings to scams. Once the money is gone, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to recover your funds,” he notes.

There are big hurdles law enforcement must overcome to catch the scammer who is behind these cons. If a scam originated out of the state, or even out of the country, it is often beyond the reach of local or state law enforcement officials, adds Kilmartin. . Complicating matters is technology, he says, noting that long gone are the days when people’s locations could be easily identified and tracked by their phone number. With cellular technology, pre-paid cell phones and “spoofing” apps, a person may be running their con from a foreign country while your caller ID shows an in-state phone number, he says.

AG’s Top Priority to Protect Consumers Against Fraud and Scams

“As Attorney General, it is one of my top priorities to protect all consumers from fraud and scams. Consumer protection is largely self protection. Becoming a smart and savvy consumer does not mean changing your daily routine — it means becoming more aware of how to avoid becoming a victim. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. It is  my belief that consumers and businesses can better protect themselves and their assets if they are aware of their rights and are aware of the fraudulent or deceptive practices scammers use,” said Kilmartin.

Tammy Miller, Director of the Consumer Protection Unit, said the reason that scamming older persons is so prevalent is because it works. “Sadly, con artists prey on older people because they tend to be more trusting. Once the money is wired, it’s gone forever, and it’s only then people realize they have been a victim of the scam. Because these outfits operate outside the state, and often outside the country, there is little law enforcement can do to track them down,” she says.

According to Miller, Attorney General Kilmartin has made educating consumers a priority. As such, members of the Consumer Protection Unit provide approximately 150 outreach presentations each year to senior centers, community groups and organizations throughout the state in an effort to educate and protect Rhode Islanders from scam artists.

In addition, several consumer alerts/advisories are issued annually. The advisories cover a wide range of topics such as fake invoices, phishing scams, a fake jury duty and arrest scam, a “car wrap” scam, possible scams related to sporting events, consumer settlements and holiday shopping tips.

“Although it is very difficult to measure, I believe our consumer outreach program has made a difference in lowering the number of victims of scams in Rhode Island. A good indicator is the increase in phone calls we receive from consumers alerting us whenever a scam pops up, which gives us a chance to get ahead of it, issue an alert and warn other consumers. I think that’s a positive sign that we are making headway and creating confident and well informed consumers,” said Miller.

Miller says that Kilmartin has done a terrific job as Attorney General in making the public aware of scams that are going around the state, which reduces the chances of someone else becoming a victim.”

Quick Actions to Protect Yourself Against Phone Scams

So, what do you do if you receive a phone call from someone pretending to be a family member in need? Miller recommends that you first verify that it is your grandchild. Always ask for a phone number of the person on the other line. Before calling them back or wiring them money, contact the family member directly. If you cannot get a hold of them, contact their parents or another family member to confirm their location.

Miller warns older persons to resist the intense pressure to send money quickly and secretly. Refuse to send money through wire transfer or overnight delivery. After you’ve thwarted the scam, Tammy Miller suggests you let your local police and the Consumer Protection Unit know about the call. Alerting the Attorney General’s Office will allow them to alert the public that the scam is making the rounds and what to be on the lookout for.

To report a consumer-related issue, to speak with a consumer protection specialist at the Attorney General’s Office, or to schedule a consumer protection specialist to speak before your community group or organization, call 401-274-4400, send an email at contactus@riag.ri.gov, or visit http://www.riag.ri.gov.

To watch the Senate U.S. Special Committee on Aging hearing and to access witness testimony, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/hearings/-hanging-up-on-phone-scams-progress-and-potential-solutions-to-this-scourge.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

 

Olon Reeder’s Fix for the State’s Ailing Economy

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 11, 2014

As the 2014 General Assembly session ended, CNBC released its annual Top States for Business rankings. It was not good news for the Ocean State. According to the report’s findings, Rhode Island finished last among the 50 states for the third time in the last four years. States were ranked in these 10 categories: cost of doing business, economy, infrastructure, workforce, quality of life, technology and innovation, business friendliness, education, cost of living and access to capital.

After the release of the scathing report, CNBC senior correspondent Scott Cohn caught up with Governor Chafee in Chicago, attending a regional Democratic Governors Association conference, who gave his thoughts to the report’s outcome. Rhode Island was on an upswing with the state putting funding into education, infrastructure and workforce development.

Reviving Up the State’s Economic Engine

Yes, as Chafee noted, a Rhode Island Senate staffer says that economic development was a priority on Smith Hill this year.

Gregg Parė, the chamber’s Director of Communication, says state lawmakers agreed with Chafee’s positive assessment of the progress made to make the state more competitive. “Many important components of the Senate’s Rhode to Work action plan to improve the skills of the existing workforce as well as the workforce of tomorrow were passed by the Assembly,” he noted.

Paré notes a centerpiece of the Road to Work plan was placing responsibility for coordination of workforce development with the Governor’s Workforce Board. Legislation was passed to accomplish this, ensuring that Rhode Islanders can access the training programs they need in a timely and effective way, he said.

“Additionally, the Jobs Development Fund was exempted from “indirect cost recovery,” which had directed a portion of the employer funded program for workforce development to the state. This provides an additional $1.2 million for worker training programs,” adds Paré.

Paré detailed some educational reforms that were addressed by lawmakers this year. The Board of Education was directed to seek lower cost but equally effective high school equivalency tests to the GED, and to reinstate a hardship waiver of fees for low-income test takers. This removes a potential barrier for obtaining an equivalency which can open doors to employment opportunities,” he says. Enacted legislation also provided more time for those receiving cash assistance to undergo training programs, and to provide professional development for high school counselors to ensure they are helping students as they enter today’s workforce. Passed legislation also helps communities transition to full-day kindergarten, a proven, effective way to better prepare students for success in school.

Paré says the newly enacted budget invests in initiatives the Senate has worked on for years which will have long-term benefits for the economy. “The Senate’s 2013 Moving the Needle report recommended reducing the corporate tax, which the 2015 budget reduces from 9 percent to 7 percent. At the same time, it shifts the method of corporate tax assessment to a single sales factor, which removes a disincentive for investing in jobs and property in Rhode Island. The budget also eliminates the cliff on the estate tax, and increases the exemption to $1.5 million.”

Summing up the legislative session, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said: “The budget invests in Rhode Island’s future. The reduction of the corporate tax rate and increase in the estate tax threshold help to make Rhode Island more competitive. The transportation infrastructure fund invests in the state’s roads and bridges. Our many initiatives in the area of job training will help the state’s economy continue to move in the right direction. I’m very confident that those initiatives will help students coming out of schools seeking employment as well as the state’s older workforce which is seeking employment.”

We Have More Work to Do

But, while it may have been a banner your for economic development reforms, Olon Reeder, President of Reeder Associates, a Southern New England based independent public relations and multi-media communications practice, calls on Rhode Island’s lawmakers to continue their focus on economic reform in next year’s session. More needs to be done, says the small businessperson, former public official and former award-winning media personality.

With the State of Rhode Island coming up with a new comprehensive economic policy early next year, the North Providence resident recently released his suggested economic development action agenda, as how to improve the state’s long term quality of life, through investing in people, communities and small businesses.

“We are at a critical crossroads where we must overcome our negative self attitudes and start taking actions ourselves if we all want our state and our lives to become successful,” says Reeder.

In his economic platform, Reeder calls for tying lifelong education to economic growth. “Brain power is a key element driving worldwide demands and economic activity today, through the convergence of non stop knowledge, creative economy, enterprise and innovation, art-design connections, which all start with lifelong learning,” he says.

Reeder says personal empowerment creates the environment for change “Empowerment encourages, and develops the skills for, self-sufficiency, giving people the abilities and knowledge that will allow them to overcome obstacles in life or work environment and ultimately, help them develop within themselves or in the society,” he says.

Reeder observes that companies are constantly replacing full-time employees and now relying upon independent contractors, where people who once counted on a steady pay check are now being left to fend for themselves in a hyper-competitive self employed market.

Based on 2011 figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Rhode Island, there re over 73 thousand self-employed contributing over $3 billion annually to the state’s economy. Most self-employed are hired out of necessity, are done so locally and through word of mouth. Because freelancers depend so much on self promotion to get their jobs, they must focus on the local markets, along with showcasing their diverse personal talents, marketing their skills to business owners in their community, along trying to compete with others for opportunities.

Reeder recognizes the importance of valuing our places, spaces and communities. “More than ever, people must be connected to where we live, work, play, stay and travel. People expect places and spaces they interact with daily to be vibrant, active, socially appealing, culturally stimulating and help them in improving their quality of life, especially with their physical and mental health,” he says.

Reeder notes active living communities provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to engage in routine daily physical activity, he says, like pedestrian and bicycle friendly design, access to intermodal transportation, mixed use development, ample recreation, walkable neighborhoods, access to fresh and healthy foods and commerce centers.

“Our economic revitalization is relevant to healthy and sustainable communities because active living communities encourage individuals to be more physically active, improving health by lowering citizens’ risk for health conditions, adds Reeder. “Active living communities create enhance quality of life, attract business and knowledge workers, and contribute to ongoing economic development,” he says.

Reeder noted that technology is a must, as people are now “required” to have 24/7 365 access to the Internet and must now communicate through social media to live, work, and transact personal activity, he calls for providing everyone with free online access “as a necessity of our 21st century lifestyles.”

Finally, Reeder thinks “Demand Driven Experiences” are necessary for not only reinventing our state’s manufacturing, but in changing our self attitudes about how Rhode Islanders see themselves, ultimately affecting expectations others may have about the perception of Rhode Island as the worst place for business.

“Because people no longer buy things for their personal benefit, they want enhancements to fulfill missing elements of their lives,” adds Reeder, noting that experiences are crucial for businesses and locations as a branding and marketing tool, especially with efforts in Rhode Island attracting people to live and travel here for our entertainment, food and lifestyles.”

“Using our experiences to effectively promote market and give an iconic brand, we must also stay true to the “real Rhode Island,” to our proud independent and working class heritage, the ethnic and cultural diversity in our state, and preserving our unique natural resources,” he says.

State lawmakers must be commended for their successful efforts to slash regulation and enact laws to make Rhode Island a more business-friendly place to operate. At press time, Reeder, a Rhode Island native, whose family has been very prominent in Southern New England for over four generations in small business, real estate, building contracting and public service, continues his efforts to get his voice heard by General Assembly leadership, state policy makers, business groups, even gubernatorial candidates.

Hopefully, they will choose to closely listen to Reeder and others who may well hold the keys to fixing Rhode Island’s sluggish economy.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a writer who covers aging, health care, medical issues, and the economy. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

Fund the Historic Tax Credit Program

Published in Pawtucket Times, June 13, 2014

With November’s election cycle looming, state lawmakers are moving quickly to finish the people’s business. Once the session ends they will begin their political campaigns to garner votes to retain their seats. .Yesterday evening the House began its floor debate on the House Finance Committee’s $8.7 billion 2015 budget proposal. At press time, this columnist has no knowledge of the outcome. But, when the dust settles late Thursday evening, if a budget amendment to fund the HTC program is defeated or even if supporters are successful in getting one passed, the Senate chamber becomes the next battle ground to fund the tax credit program.

Last week, the House Finance Committee declined to recommend funding for this program, despite Governor Chafee’s inclusion of $52 million for the Historic Tax Credit (HTC) program in his FY 2015 Budget proposal. As a result, Grow Smart Executive Director Scott Wolf and his fellow Historic Tax Credit advocates are running a full court press to push House and Senate leadership to include funding for the popular economic-development and neighborhood-revitalization program in the 2015 Budget.

In the lobbying blitz, Wolf is telling lawmakers and everyone who will listen that the HTC program has successfully transform older cities and towns in the Ocean State, by spurring reinvestment, revitalization, and job generation. These programs provide an incentive in the form of a tax credit, to property owners to renovate old historic buildings. These state credits can be and often are paired with the federal historic preservation tax credit to renovate commercial properties.

Historic Tax Credit – Great Economic Development Tool

It’s a success in the Ocean State, too, notes Wolfe. Rhode Island’s HTC program has stimulated more than $1.6 billion of investment in more than 250 projects within less than 7 years. For every dollar the state invests, there is a more than five dollar return in economic activity based on a study Wolf’s organization, Grow Smart Rhode Island, commissioned several years ago.

Wolf adds, “The evidence that the historic tax credit makes a real positive difference can be seen on the ground in communities throughout the state – in bustling commercial properties like Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket and along Westminster Street in Providence, in new apartments for urban workers and new affordable housing units. It can be seen in increased property tax revenues from rehabbed buildings. It can be seen in neighborhoods that have been rescued from the blight of vacant, derelict buildings.”

According to a media release issued jointly by Grow Smart Rhode Island and Preserve Rhode Island, $52 million in bond authorization remains in reserve from the total bond authorization approved in 2008 by the General Assembly for the original HTC program, which was discontinued in 2008 for any new projects but maintained for many other projects already under way at that time.

The General Assembly in 2013 reinstated the program, using $34.5 million in unclaimed tax credits from the prior program and, Wolf says, “The new program has ignited 26 new projects that will pump nearly $180 million into the Rhode Island economy, but 27 additional projects are waitlisted and in jeopardy if additional funding is not provided to sustain the program. By not including an extension of historic tax credit funding in the upcoming budget, the state risks forgoing up to $160 million in construction activity alone. Significant sales and employment taxes also will be lost.”

Preserve Rhode Island Executive Director Valerie Talmage says, “Our Historic Tax Credit program has an outstanding track record. From 2002 to 2008, it generated $1.3 billion in new private investment in Rhode Island’s real-estate economy, which resulted in 22,000 construction jobs, 6,000 permanent jobs, and total wages of more than $800 million. Our state cannot afford to shut this program down.”

Wolf added that suspending the HTC program again would be harmful because “We’d be ceding the competitive advantage provided by our world-renowned collection of distinctive historic buildings and neighborhoods to nearby states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and New York, each of which has ongoing and robust state historic tax credit programs.”

Finally, Wolf emphasized that another HTC program suspension would “Send a bad signal to investors and entrepreneurs about Rhode Island’s business climate and economic development credibility.”

Wolf and Talmage, together with their organization members, partners, and fellow advocates are calling on the General Assembly to “Continue the Historic Tax Credit program because it is a sound and critical investment in Rhode Island’s cities and towns and a proven job-generator and revenue producer, which our state sorely needs.”

In their lobbying Wolf, Talmage and their network of approximately 90 organizations who support the HTC program are quick to identify its positive impact. State officials will see higher state revenues through construction and other jobs generated by the HTC projects. In addition, job creation and increased employment taxes are derived years in advance of any outlay of state funding because Historic Tax Credits are not released for any enrolled project until the project is completed. Sales-tax revenues result from construction materials and other goods purchased for HTC projects also benefit the state in advance of any outlay.

Wolf and others also note that The Budget Office forecasts no fiscal impact to the state budget from the proposed $52 Million in debt service until FY ’19 because bonds won’t need to be issued until the projects have been completed and the tax credits have been claimed.

In an Op Ed in the Providence Journal, Pawtucket’s Mayor Donald R. Grebien and Central Fall’s Mayor James Diossa, support Wolf’s assessment of its impact in the state’s cities and towns. The Mayors say that their fiscally stressed communities benefit from Historic Tax Credits through increased property assessments.

Developing an Old Mill in Pawtucket

Antique Dealer and entrepreneur Scott Davis knows a good program when he sees one. The Eastside resident is planning to develop his old Fuller manufacturing mill on Exchange Street into a combination of commercial and residential space, but any state backpedaling of funding the HTC program will make it difficult to get his project off the ground.

An inquiry by Davis to Chairman Raymond Gallison of the House Committee on Finance, about the suspending of funding for HTC program resulted in an email explaining the decision. The chairman noted that a primary reason for rejecting Governor Chafee’s proposed additional $52 million HTC funding was based on the assertion that there were already sufficient funds in place in the existing program to meet current demand.

Davis disagrees. “My project, which is a rare and historically significant wooden mill built in a prominent Pawtucket city location alongside the Blackstone River is Number 65 in the queue,” he says, noting that he believes that none of the current funds in place will ever be allocated to his project.

“Financial assistance is essentially the only way that my mill project will ever be able to developed, says Davis, who notes that the cost to restore the historic structure versus the prevailing rental rate for space in Pawtucket simply doesn’t work out.

Chairman Gallison also noted that issues with tax credit brokers are a stumbling block for the program,” says Davis. “It is unimaginable that the resulting (legislative) decision] would be akin to ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. If there is a problem with the brokers, Davis calls on lawmakers to fix it, but threatening so many important buildings, jobs, and resulting tax revenues in the process just doesn’t make sense to him.

Davis says that previous HTC funds have made 8 major Pawtucket projects possible. According to the Pawtucket Foundation, the tax incentives were the catalyst for $150 million in local investments that increased property values by 728 % and increased Pawtucket tax revenues by over $1 million annually.

“Keeping these historic buildings intact while awaiting funding assistance is extremely expensive and no doubt we will lose many of them if we can’t save them promptly,” predicts Davis. “ I can tell you from personal experience that just keeping my small 26,000 sq. ft. mill ‘on hold’ costs me several thousand dollars per month just for taxes, insurance, utilities, fire safety, security and basic upkeep,” he says.

HTC is No 38 Studios

Some speculate that recent headlines about 38 Studios and tax credits in general may have spooked House and Senate Leadership to back away from funding the HTC program. Ultimately, the ball is in the court of Senate leadership who must respond to the budget proposal submitted by the House. How can lawmakers fear another 38 Studio debacle when the Historic Tax Credits are only issued upon completion of the project? In other words, after construction workers have laid the last brick – only after new residential and office space is actually available.

But, Gregg Paré, the Rhode Island’s Director of Communication, says don’t expect any action in the Senate to fund the state’s HTC program this year if the House fails to act. “The Senate is in agreement on the budget with the House,” he says, noting that Senate leadership usually iron out any differences before the budget reaches the House floor.

Paré says that the Senate has only once modified the House budget proposal in decades. But, now it’s time for this legislative action to happen again this year especially if the House budget does not include funding for the HTC program.

To Wolf, Talmage, and Davis, and to municipal leaders in a number of Rhode Island’s cities and towns, it is obvious that the program works and serves as an important tool for community revitalization and economic development.

For this columnist, funding the HTC program is just the right thing to do, for the economy and most importantly, for the tax payer.
.
Herb Weiss is a writer covering health care, aging, medical issues and the economy. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Red Bandana Fund to Recognize Henry Shelton and Providence Student Union

Published June 6, 2014

In just two days, look for the gathering of friends, Rhode Island College educators, progressives, folkies and family members of the late Richard J. Walton, who come to the Red Bandana Award to pay homage and remember him. With his prominent long white beard and red bandana, decked out in blue jean overalls and wearing a baseball cap, Walton was a dedicated advocate of worker rights and committed to the nurturing of young people as a college professor at Rhode Island College. He gave hundreds of hours of service every month to organizations including Amos House, the George Wiley Center, Providence Niquinhomo Sister City Project, the Green Party, and Stone Soup Folk Arts Foundation.

The Red Bandana Fund was also created to be a legacy to help sustain Rhode Island’s community of individuals and organizations that embody the lifelong peace and justice ideas of Walton. Through the Red Bandana Fund, an annual financial award will be made to an organization or individual whose work best represents the ideals of peace and social justice that exemplify Walton’s life work

Stephen Graham, a member of committee organizing the fundraiser, noted that 12 nominations received. “There were many deserving nominations, all of which one could make an excellent argument for the award,” he said.

“After much deliberation and agonizing, the Red Bandana Fund decided to give not one but two awards,” noted Graham.  “Awards will be given to longtime community activist and hell-raiser, Henry Shelton, and the other to the passionate, unrelenting organizing workers called the Providence Student Union (PSU),” he says, noting that their work embodies the spirit and work of Walton, a well-known social activist in the Rhode Island area who died in 2012.

“Richard would have loved the choices,” noted Graham, a very close friend of Walton’s and a retired community activist.

The Red Bandana Fund celebration takes place on Sunday, June 8 at Nick-a-Nees, 75 South Street. In Providence from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The event is open to the public and donations accepted.

Shelton, a former Catholic priest and long-time director of the Pawtucket-based George Wiley Center, is known throughout the region for his steadfast commitment to bettering the lives of all Rhode Islanders, especially the poor and disadvantaged. As a longtime advocate for the needy, he has been a fixture on the streets and at the statehouse for decades, advocating for fairness in housing, public transportation, and medical care.

“It is not an understatement to say that Shelton is the conscience of this state and has been for a long, long time,” says Graham, noting that there was no way Shelton could be ignored.

The committee also honored a new generation of young people working to make a better world, added Graham. So, the Red Bandana Fund also recognizes the PSU for its groundbreaking work done in addressing important issues of education in creative and powerful ways. The PSU is an important voice in the debate over the value of high-stakes testing, challenging the NECAP tests as a requirement for graduation, and has forced officials and politicians to address their concerns, he said.

“It is their commitment to grass-roots organizing and social change, at such a young age, that has earned them the recognition and thanks of the Red Bandana Fund and for all those fighting for justice in today’s society,” says Graham.

Coming up with a name for Walton’s fundraiser was tied to his unique fashion sense and was the idea of his daughter Cathy Barnard and Richard, her brother. Like most people, Richard had a vivid, visual image of his father, who had long white hair and beard, being known for wearing his trademark worn blue jean overalls, a red bandana and Stone Soup baseball cap. After Walton died his close friends came over to his house and wanted one of his red bandanas to remember him. Thus, the red bandana became the perfect moniker and recognition for the annual fundraiser.

Says Bill Harley, also on the organizing committee, The Red Bandana Fund is a continuation of Walton’s tradition of having an annual birthday bash – usually held the first Sunday in June, to raise money for Amos House & the Providence-Niquinohomo Sister City Project and other progressive causes.

Over 24 years, Walton had raised over $40,000 for these favorite charities, attracting hundreds of people each year including the state’s powerful political and media elite to his family compound located at Pawtuxet Cove in Warwick

“We hope all the people who attended Richard’s parties in the past [1988 to 2011] will show up for the event and you can bring your favorite dish for the potluck,” adds Harley.

“This is our second year giving the award,” said Bill Harley, a member of the selection committee. “We chose the awardees from a great list of nominations, and decided to acknowledge both young organizers, and one of our long-time heroes. Too often, the people who are in the trenches working for us don’t get recognized. We hope the Award begins to address that shortcoming.”

According to Graham, “last year’s event was more of a concert and tribute to Walton.” Over 300 people attended the inaugural Red Bandana fundraising event in 2013 at Shea High School, raising more than $11,000 from ticket sales, a silent auction and raffle. At this event, the first recipient, Amos House, received a $1,000, he said.

Graham says the well-known nonprofit was chosen because of its very long relationship with Walton. He was a founding board member, serving for over 30 years, being board chair for a number of years. For almost three decades, the homeless advocate spent an overnight shift with the men who lived in the 90-Day Shelter Program each Thursday bringing them milk and cookies. Each Friday morning he would make pancakes and eggs in the soup kitchen for hundreds of men and women who came to eat a hot meal.

As to getting this year’s Red Bandana Fund off the ground, Harley says: “It’s been a year of fits and starts to make this thing work. I believe that the establishment of this award, and the honoring of people on a yearly basis, will help us build a community here that can transform our culture. It’s a little thing down the road, I can envision this award meaning more and more to recipients, and to the community those recipients come from.”
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Walton touched people’s lives, Rick Wahlberg, one of the organizers. “Everyone had such an interesting story to tell about Richard,” he stated, noting that the Warwick resident, known as a social activist, educator, humanitarian, very prolific writer, and a co-founder of Pawtucket’s Stone Soup Coffee House “had made everyone feel that they themselves had a very special, close relationship with him.”

Like last year’s inaugural event, Wahlberg expects to see many of Walton’s friends at the upcoming June 8th fundraiser. He and others attending will view this event as a “gathering of the clan” since those attending will be Walton’s extended Rhode Island family.

So, block out some time on your busy Sunday. Come to the Red Bandana Fund event to remember our good old friend, Richard Walton, and support his legacy and positive impact in making Rhode Island a better place to live and work. Enjoy the gathering of caring people who come to recognize the advocacy efforts of Shelton and the PSU to carry on Walton’s work.

Spread the word.

Core participants in organizing this year’s Red Bandana Fund include, Bill Harley, Stephen Graham, Jane Falvey, Barbara & Rick Wahlberg. Other participants included Jane Murphy, Jodi Glass, Cathy Barnard and Richard Walton, Jr.

For more information about donating to The Red Bandana Fund, go to http://www.soup.org/page1/RedBandana.html.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a writer who covers health care, aging, and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com

Regular Folks Give Advice to Graduates

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 23, 2014

This month, commencement speakers at Rhode Island’s Colleges and Universities will give the Class of 2014 their tips on how they can successfully find their professional niche, in a state with the distinction of having the worst employment rate in the nation and continues to be one of the last states to see an economic revival.  Rhode Islanders are also known for their inferiority complex and general attitude about the quality of life in the state.

Robed graduating seniors will sit listening closely to commencement speeches, given by very well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities and Business CEOs, detailing their observations and advice, and how if closely followed, just might give the graduates a more rewarding personal and professional life.

 Typically a commencement speech (the length being about 10 minutes) is given by a notable, successful, stimulating figure well-known in the community, nationally or internationally. While some colleges and universities may enhance their prestige by bringing in high-profile speakers (University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams University, and Providence College) sometimes at great cost, others like Brown University, unique among Ivy League institutions, features graduating seniors, rather than outside dignitaries, as their commencement speakers. This year, Rhode Island College,
under graduate and graduate commencement speakers are Rhode Islanders.

So, I say to Presidents of Colleges and Universities, with your tight budgets you can save a little money by not bringing in high paid commencement speakers. As can be seen below, there are many potential    commencement speakers in local communities throughout the state who fly below the radar screen and can give college graduates sound strategies for success gleaned from their life experiences. They give road maps on how one can live a more healthy fulfilling life, mature in a way to realize their potential and age gracefully in a challenging and quickly changing world.

Jesse Nemerofsky, 60, Providence, Professional Commercial Photographer. “Always remember that everyone you meet in life can be a potential or future client. This being said, a positive introduction of yourself is a valuable way to be called to work together on projects, even to be hired for future jobs. George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, has stated in interviews that when he meets someone he gets their business card, and at birthdays, Christmas time, or when the person is honored, he sends them a personal note. By taking time to acknowledge people over the lifetime of his career, the former President is highly respected by those he has encountered, even if his political position or business venture was successful or not.   Honesty and representing your capabilities is of course of the utmost importance, and small gestures like sending a personal note can ultimately have great impact, but excellence in your work should be your main goal.”

Michael Cassidy, 66, Pawtucket, Retired. “As you go into the ‘real’ world from the sheltered ‘world of college’ don’t be too quick to judge the new people you meet in the work place.  People come in all types, sizes, shapes, temperaments, personalities, ages, and backgrounds; and they all have their own experiences from which you can learn. If you are smart enough to listen to what others have to offer, you can learn from them not only what to do, but what not to do. And most times learning what not to do is the most valuable lesson you can have.”

Olon Reeder, 55, North Providence, Reeder Associates Public Relations. “Become adaptable to constant changes in your life. Today’s global environment demands that you must become faster, better and smarter and compete with yourself and everyone else to survive socially. You have to embrace non-stop learning, empower yourself with your own resources, have an independent attitude and create value for who you really are and what you want to be to shape your quality of life for the future!”

Michelle Godin, 50, Vice President, New England Economic Development Services, Inc. “Live each day of your life with integrity. Whether in your personal life or professional life, integrity will define you as a person.  Never waiver.  When your days on earth are ended, it is your integrity that others will remember.   Those who live with integrity will be fondly remembered and missed, because with integrity comes many other admirable qualities such as compassion, empathy, tolerance, and understanding.  Those lacking integrity will be discussed with disdain and quickly forgotten.  Choose to become exemplary.”

Paul Audette, 85, Pawtucket, semi-retired businessman.The Youth of today — from puberty to whatever age one reaches maturity – tend to see life as it pertains to them, yet each person is responsible for him or herself.  While the youth may have the knowledge, they lack the life experience which is the main factor in making good sound judgments that ultimately affect (your) well-being as well as that of your loved ones. While experience cannot be taught, it cannot be overlooked as a major component in making sound decisions that affect your future.experience comes from living – and life is a journey.”

Joan Retsinas, 67, Providence, a writer. “Savor, savor, savor. Savor the sunshine, and the rain. Savor your friends, your family, your colleagues. Nurture the people close to you. Be a friend. Fall in love. If you fall out of love, fall in again. Read “Winnie the Pooh” to a child. Eat ice cream. Ride a bike. Swim in the ocean. Laugh. As for fame, fortune, and success, don’t fret. They don’t really matter.”

Rick Wahlberg, 61, Senior Project Manager, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island. Be Useful, there is no feeling like making the world a better place. Be Aware, strike a balance between career, family, friends, and community. Be Grateful for what you have, don’t be jealous of what you don’t have, and share.

Wendy Jencks, 61, Cumberland, Visitor Center Manager, Blackstone Valley Visitor Center. “There may be a time in young people’s lives when they are nervous to take a risk, don’t be afraid to take a chance. If an opportunity/life experience arises and you want it, take it even if it is unconventional. You may not get another opportunity again. Also, a person’s first job is not the end all be all. Your dream job may actually be something you did not study. People confine themselves to their own walls.”

Larry Sullivan, 49, Pawtucket, Director, Net Compliance Solution’s technical & consulting services. “Recognize opportunity. If you can’t identify opportunities, then they are very likely to sneak past you unnoticed. Most people’s search criteria is so narrow in focus that it can essentially blind them to opportunities available right in front of their face. It’s the old “can’t see the forest for the trees” scenario. Also, see yourself as a valuable asset. Your self-image will make a huge difference in the type of opportunities you attract to yourself. If you see yourself as a valuable asset, and you present yourself as such, others will see you that way as well.”

Denise Panichas, 50, Woonsocket, Executive Director of The Samaritans of Rhode Island. “Respect cannot be given when asked for, it has to be earned.” This is something you learn later in life. How do you earn respect from those around you? By being true to yourself – your values, beliefs and most importantly to your commitments to family, friends and the community.”

Ken McGill, 51, Pawtucket, Register of Voters, City of Pawtucket. “Find time to give back to your community. In the years to come you will be looking for a good job, getting married, having children and getting on with life. Never forget those in need in your community. Mentoring children, giving time to a soup kitchen, volunteering to help civic groups in your city or town or just helping a neighbor will give you more reward than any salary or position in the corporate world.“

Gail Solomon, 59, Pawtucket, Gail Solomon, Inc., a graphic design company. “You’re not the most unqualified or least knowledgeable person in the room. Everyone else thinks they are. And anyway it’s much more elegant to ask questions than to behave like you know all the answers. Because nobody does. Ever.”

Susan Sweet, 72, Rumford, former state administrator, non- profit lobbyist and advocate. “In the short space that we are in the world, we must create meaning in our lives by contributing to the happiness and well-being of other people and other sentient beings. To do good and useful work, caring and acting for the betterment of others is the true goal of life.”

Bob Billington, President of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council who received his Doctorate in Education from Johnson & Wales University in 2005, says that “Star Power Sells” when seeking out a commencement speaker. “We have regular people walking amongst us who do very extraordinary things everyday but they may never get a chance to give a commencement speech at a college or university,” he notes.

If so, I say that it’s a shame.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

AARP Report Says Older Americans Value Livable Communities

Published n Pawtucket Times, May 16, 2014

If they had their druthers, the vast majority of people age 50 and older plan to remain living independently right at home in their communities “aging in place”, concludes a new report released last month by the AARP Public Policy Institute. The 43 page report which surveyed boomers and seniors found that both value secure neighborhoods, safety, good schools, safe streets for walking, access to transportation, parks and affordable housing as community amenities. With these resources in place, communities enhance personal independence and foster resident engagement in civic, economic and social life, qualities that AARP has traditionally used to describe the livability of a community.

“What older Americans and Millennials want in terms of their community is not all that different.” said AARP Executive Vice President for Policy, Debra Whitman. “What is livable differs for each of us, whether we want a warm climate or a dense city, for example,” she said. “But this report tells us that the fundamental elements of a community that will please America’s aging population will equally serve future generations [as well].”

Maintaining Independence in the Community

The new report, “What is Livable? Community Preferences of Older Adults,” unveiled April 25, 2014, is based on focus groups and a survey of more than 4,500 participants. These findings reaffirm the historic trend that most people ages 50 and older want to age in place. Adults ages 65 and older are even more likely (87 percent) to say they want to age in their current home or community than those ages 50 to 64 (71 percent).

A small portion of adults age 50 and older – about one in six – say they plan to move in the next three years. This thought is more common for members of minority groups, those with low-incomes, those who don’t drive, or those living in metropolitan areas, notes the report.

According to the AARP report, many factors play into the hierarchy of a person’s community preferences. Specifically, household income influences the importance of local government spending priorities on local schools, transportation, personal safety, and proximity to various amenities. Race and ethnicity also play a role as do health and one’s life stage. African-American and Latino respondents ranked affordable housing more highly than respondents in general, for example, while caregivers and people with disabilities rate the availability of specialized transportation more highly than those who are not in those categories.

Participants were also asked, “What community amenities do you want close to home?” Access to public transportation, food and green space topped the list, the researchers say.

Effectively Planning for Livable Communities

Jeff C. Davis, Principal Planner at the Rhode Island Division of Planning, notes that AARP’s report mirrors his state agency’s views as what is a livable community. State planners’ strategy is to identify and promote areas where Rhode Island should grow – places in the state that already have a core of residential and commercial development or are well suited to planned, future development; they are the places that will accommodate and nurture Rhode Island’s future growth while protecting its natural and cultural resources.

According to Davis, livable communities can be found in downtown places like Providence, Westerly, Newport and Warren and in villages like Wickford, Harrisville, Wakefield and Pawtuxet. “These places offer a mix of homes, shops, community services, jobs, and public open space, connected not just by roads, but bus routes, bike paths, and in some cases trains,” states Davis, stressing that the Ocean State is also “very fortunate that a lot of these places have beautiful architecture and access to water, whether rivers, ponds, or the ocean.”

Davis believes that zoning ordinances through the state make it difficult to recreate livable places, or to enhance existing centers with sensitive development. “Many of our older urban communities have the bones of a livable, walk able place, but need targeted reinvestment to come alive again with a mix of uses and housing,” he says.

“The state and our cities and towns need to continue to work together to make sure local zoning allows and encourages center development, finds ways to prioritize funding and other supports for these areas, and makes sure that we are planning physically and financially for inclusive and accessible places,” adds Davis.

Davis is seeking public input to make Rhode Island’s communities more livable. “We are currently working on a planning campaign called RhodeMap RI, and need feedback on ideas for growing Rhode Island’s economy and providing for healthy homes and great communities.”

“It’s All in Our Backyard”

“The one surprise in the AARP report is that health care was not a major concern,” says President and CEO Neil Steinberg, of the Rhode Island Foundation, the state’s largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations. “We hear about it all the time. In fact, access to quality, affordable health care is one of our strategic priorities,” he says.

“Almost everyone probably can agree on what makes a livable community. They have vibrant arts and culture, concern for children and families, economic opportunity for all, a great educational system, a sound environment, quality health care, housing that doesn’t break the bank and programs that meet basic human needs,” states Steinberg..

“The fact that we do have livable communities is what keeps Rhode Islanders here generation after generation,” says Steinberg, noting that the state’s small size gives its residents a “statewide feeling of connectedness.”

“This sense of belonging may be the most important factor in defining a livable community,” adds Steinberg.

The Rhode Island Foundation which awarded more than $ 31 million in grants last year to help nonprofits tackle critical issues in the state, has implemented a very visible public awareness campaign that reminds people that the Ocean State is a special, very livable place, notes Steinberg. “It’s All in Our Backyard” is about pride of place. It is an effort to help Rhode Islanders connect with our state’s rich resources, he says.

“There are plenty of success stories right here,” Steinberg says, noting that Rhode Island has “global industry and cutting-edge innovation, thriving entrepreneurship and world-class universities, breathtaking landscapes and a major arts scene.”

Steinberg urges, “Let’s celebrate Rhode Island as the vibrant, stimulating place where we work and live.”

It’s a Mixed Bag

AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen S. Connell observes that neighborhoods widely differ in the state’s 39 towns and cities, and within larger cities. “That said, a fair assessment would be that there are examples of great strides toward more livable communities as well as places in Rhode Island that are in a state of neglect.”

“The good news is that where improvements are being made today the process is much different when it was a decade ago as far as taking into consideration the interests of a broader range of stakeholders,” Connell adds.

Connell says that “many of the state’s older neighborhoods qualify as “livable” insofar as they are blessed with open space, sidewalks, are near parks and bike paths and feature transportation infrastructure that is designed with consideration for all types of users and people of all abilities.” Many planners and members of zoning boards understand the concept of livable communities and work hard to maintain and expand livable features,” she notes.

“But as the AARP survey revealed, livable also [also] means good schools, responsive local government, safety, convenient public transportation and affordable housing,” adds Connell, noting that there are still “parts of the state where these things have yet to come together that can be improved and communities made more livable.”

Connell warns that making a community livable should not be just to benefit the older population. “It’s really about people of all ages who want to live comfortable, healthy and environmentally responsible lives,” she says, detailing examples that include more public, park-like space in a retail/business district. These are assets for Rhode Islanders of all ages.

“A greener environment can enhance the business climate and local economy and works for all citizens on that level, too,” states Connell. Bike paths benefit all age groups and curb cuts benefit young moms with baby strollers as much as they are helpful to folks who get around with the aide of walkers,” she says.

The AARP study’s findings show that both young and old gravitate to livable communities. These localities allow persons to be more active, stay fit, even connected, allowing aging boomers and seniors to live independently at home. Rhode Islander’s might just think about The Rhode Island Foundation’s message, “It’s All in Our Backyard.” While we have a little ways to go to be a completely livable state, we’re closer to that goal than some naysayers believe.
The full report “What is Livable? Community Preferences of Older Adults” can be found at http://www.aarp.org/research/ppi/liv-com2/policy/Other/articles/what-is-livable-AARP-ppi-liv-com.

For more information about the Rhode Island Foundation’s “It’s All in Our Backyard,” go to http://www.ourbackyardri.com.

For details about RhodeMap RI, and to take the State’s surveys on housing and economic development, go to http://www.rhodemapri.org/rhodemap-virtual-open-house.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.